Sep 22, 2020 - Technology

How Gen Z activists are using tech and TikTok to promote voting

Illustration of a pencil checking a box with a z instead of an x. 

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Up to Us, a four-month-old organization largely made up of young techies, is debuting a social media-based campaign Tuesday aimed at getting young adults (or “Gen Z”) to register to vote for the upcoming U.S. elections in November.

Why it matters: In 2016, while 88% of Americans aged 18 to 30 intended to vote, only 43% of them did, according to data from the American National Election Studies.

The big picture: Up to Us, which kicks off its campaign Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day, is the latest effort to appeal to young voters to register and participate in the election.

Between the lines: “I felt so helpless, we were sitting there, watching so much go wrong,” founder Conor Sanchez-O’Shea tells Axios of the first few months of 2020 as the pandemic quickly engulfed the U.S. amid ongoing political turmoil.

  • Like other young activists, he eventually decided that getting his peers to vote in November would be the best use of time and effort.
  • Since then, he's enlisted Outvote chief operating officer Emily DaSilva, Google Hardware influencer lead Ava Donaldson, and YouTuber (and former tech journalist) Sam Sheffer, among others, to the team. Some members of a group that used Twitter and emoji to stage a clever weekend critique of the tech industry's culture have also joined the organization.

Details: Up to Us has partnered with Outvote, which has built the underlying website voters interact with, while Up to Us is on the front end, leading the marketing efforts via social media outreach, especially through partnerships with TikTok stars.

  • Users are provided with three options: checking their status if they’ve registered before, finding out how to register if they never have, or helping to get others to check their status if they aren’t eligible to vote themselves.
  • Users can amass entries to potentially win a videochat with a TikTok star, or enter to win a Tesla car.
  • Via Outvote, Up to Us is also using Civitech to send users printed, pre-paid application forms to apply for mail-in ballots.
  • More generally, it’s hoping to help young voters navigate the basic mechanics of voting, from registering to figuring out when and how to cast their ballots, though it’s remaining non-partisan and steering clear from advocating for any candidate or issue.

The project has not been without challenges. Some young social media stars declined to participate, citing a lack of faith that voting and the political process can be effective, says Sanchez-O'Shea.

The bottom line: "We want to make a real difference — we don't want this to be a stunt," says Sanchez-O'Shea, adding that he's conservatively hoping the campaign will yield 100,000 registration status checks and a couple thousand ballot applications.

Editor's note: The story has been corrected to show that unregistered voters are provided with information on how to (not a direct registration option).

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